The Brand Pivot: An enduring strategy for growth

Scott Hauman, VP Strategy and Innovation

What is a brand pivot anyway? Pivoting a brand is a significant shift in strategy to attain new growth. Sometimes, it is a direct reaction to marketplace changes; other times, it's a proactive move to expand and extend the brand somehow. Either way, it’s a catalyst for share and profit gains. 

When should you consider a brand pivot? Let's discuss some key indicators:

The pandemic caused many brands to pivot because it drastically changed market conditions. It also unleashed an entrepreneurial tsunami of new business applications and platforms. It’s a fact that most brands will explore and consider a brand pivot sometime in their lifespan. Almost all companies will eventually hit a wall in their growth. Revenue and user numbers will start to plateau, and no amount of change in marketing can move the needle. And then there are the brands constantly pivoting; it’s baked into their DNA to morph and shift. IBM fits into this class of transformers.  

International Business Machines was founded in 1911 and has been one of the world's top manufacturers of computing machines, computer equipment and mainframes. In the early 1990s, the company had to change course because its hardware business faced steep competition. In 1993, the company posted a staggering $8 billion quarterly loss. To turn the company around, executives boldly abandoned its hardware areas such as computer chips, hard drives and printers. To counter this reality, IBM focused on software, IT consulting services and computing research, and this move brought the company back to profitability and improved its reputation. IBM's spirit of reinvention continued with its 2020 decision to split into two companies: IBM, which focuses on cloud computing and artificial intelligence, and Kyndryl, a new company that provides managed IT services.  

When Should You Consider a Brand Pivot? 

Pivots are often reactions to changes. However, understanding your growth trajectory is a natural way to gauge if your brand should pivot. If you're having trouble growing or scaling, it's likely time for a pivot.  

Here are some key indicators of a need to pivot:

  • Your brand is in preservation mode, mostly playing defense with no plans for expansion or extension.
  • You notice new entrants and challengers in your category offering new models for connection, shopping, usage and consumption.
  • You and your executive team realize your brand can't achieve the scale necessary to capture new audiences. At Hart, we call this intentional brand strategy "moving people from apathy to advocacy."
  • Your distinction is eroding.
  • Your brand is struggling to address the cultural shifts affecting how your product or service is being considered and consumed.
  • Your brand has no relevance with Gen Z. 

How to Get Ready for a Move

There are two core strategies to embrace and embed in your culture (on an ongoing basis) that will best prepare your brand to get out ahead of the change game. 

Rely on customer feedback and data. Your customers are your best critics. Regularly diving into customer feedback and data can reveal much about what's working and what's not. If the data shows declining engagement or if feedback points toward a mismatch between your messaging and customer expectations, you know it is time to usher in a change.
Stay on top of changes in market trends and technological advancements. A change in consumer behavior, emerging market segments or a shift in industry focus can all signal it's time to reevaluate and adapt your marketing approach. It's all about staying relevant and competitive. We all know that new technologies can change the game overnight. Whether leveraging new marketing technologies or adapting to how technological changes affect consumer behavior, staying ahead of the tech curve is crucial. 

Ultimately, a brand pivot is a business decision rooted in the importance of flexibility and responsiveness to market signals. Recognizing the need for a pivot and executing it effectively can turn potential failure into phenomenal success. Humans are drawn to stories of risk and reward. Those companies making bets inspire us to do the same. A great example of this is Shopify. Initially an online snowboard equipment store called Snowdevil, the founders pivoted to selling their e-commerce platform to other businesses, transforming into the Shopify we know today – a powerhouse in the world of commerce.  We can all learn from them and others as we steer our brands to new lands. 

Discover when it's time to pivot your brand and how to get ready for the move.